By Liam Dawes
The standard of football officials has been thrust into the spotlight once more following last Saturday’s controversial refereeing display by Peter Walton in Brighton & Hove Albion’s 3-0 defeat at Southampton.
Walton awarded the Saints two second-half penalties, with the first spot kick being given for a foul which clearly occurred outside the penalty area.
The situation was further inflamed by the Northamptonshire official sending off Albion full-back and assistant manager Mauricio Taricco for his part in the resulting protests.
Seagulls’ manager Gus Poyet said,
“I’m always fair with referees because it is a difficult job… but when the incident is a yard outside the box it’s embarrassing.”
Given the Uruguayan’s reputation for speaking his mind, Walton probably got off lightly in this instance. Others haven’t always been so lucky.
Last month, a Southern Premier Division match between Chesham United and Redditch United was abandoned after Redditch player Josh McKenzie punched the referee after he awarded a penalty against him.
The incident led to the player being arrested and cautioned by police, and instant dismissal from the club.
At the top echelons of the game, the problem continues in a blaze of publicity.
Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is a regular critique of refereeing standards, including a rant at Martin Atkinson following his side’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in March.
“You want a fair referee – or a strong referee, anyway – and we didn’t get that. ..When I saw who the referee was I did fear it. I feared the worst.”
Ferguson had also been charged previously by the FA for criticising Atkinson after United lost to Portsmouth in a FA Cup tie in 2008, for which he personally was fined £20,000.
With players and managers earning millions of pounds a year, many people feel stiffer fines need to be handed out to those who overstep the mark in their criticisms.
The problem is often even worse at grassroots level, leading to 7,000 referees choosing to quit the game each season.
Such an alarming number led to the FA launching the Respect campaign in August 2008, aimed at making players, managers and fans alike appreciate the tough job officials have every time they step over the white line.
Over three years on, it is clear that more work needs to be done before abuse of officials is fully eradicated.
However, with children and parents naturally copying what they see their heroes doing at stadiums and on the TV each week, the FA will need to work on stamping out abuse at the top level.
Equally though, they should take a strong stance on referees who perform below par, starting with Walton’s performance at St Mary’s last weekend.